NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee State suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to Eastern Illinois in front of 22,144 fans in attendance for Homecoming on Saturday night at Nissan Stadium. The Panthers converted on a 26-yard field goal in the extra stanza to steal a 25-22 victory over the Tigers.
TSU fell to 3-3 on the season and 0-3 in Ohio Valley Conference play. EIU improved to 3-3, 3-0 in conference.
Quarterback Ronald Butler amassed 229 of the Tigers 287 total yards on the night. The junior rushed for a career high 104 yards and threw for another 125. Butler ended the game with two touchdowns, one on the ground and the second through the air.
Butler’s first score came on a 30-yard scamper down the left sideline to tie the score at 7-7 at 11:21 of the second quarter. The run matched the longest run of his career, which he set a week ago at UT Martin.
The Tallahassee, Fla., native gave the Tigers its first lead of the game with a seven-yard hook up with Chris Sanders-McCollum with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter. The touchdown pass is the sixth of the season for Butler and the second for Sanders-McCollum.
EIU did manage to pick up two interceptions against Butler. The first came in the end zone with two seconds remaining on the clock just before halftime, while the second came on the final play of the game, a third-and-long, as the Panthers secured the win in overtime.
Eastern Illinois gained the upper hand to begin the game as Aaron Gooch broke through to block an Austin Rowley punt. The Panthers tried to go for the homerun ball on the first play from the TSU 31, but Laquarius Cook reached in to break up the pass, allowing Ezra Robinson to make a diving interception at the TSU three.
EIU still held the advantage as they forced a three-and-out and started their next possession at the 38 yard line. The Panthers proceeded to use nine plays to move down the field and received an eight yard run from Devin Church for the early 7-0 lead.
After Butler tied the game with his career long scamper, the Panthers regained the lead just three plays later. On a third-and-five from the EIU 33, Jalen Whitlow found Addison Bonds over the middle for a 62 yard pass play making the score 14-7 with 9:50 left before intermission.
On the ensuing kick-off, Gabe Scott received the ball heading towards the right sideline and stepped out at the one. With their backs against the wall the Tigers came out fighting. On a third-and-nine, Butler threw a bullet to Patrick Smith for 26 yards. After the play the Tigers moved forward 15 yards due to a late hit on EIU.
The drive stalled three plays later, but the Tigers benefited from another Panther miscue as they were called for roughing the kicker. The penalty gave TSU a chance to move closer setting up the first of three Lane Clark field goals. The first came from 31 yards, cutting the EIU lead down to four at 14-10 with 4:13 before half.
The Panthers opened the second half by taking advantage of three major penalties by the Tigers to reach the TSU nine. Two plays later, The Tigers Terrell Bonds jumped in front of a Whitlow pass at the six and returned it 69 yards to the EIU 25.
The Tigers would inch closer as Clark nailed his second field goal of the game from 41-yards out to get within one point at 14-13.
The TSU defense continued to cause problems during the third quarter. Cook once again made his presence felt as he teamed up with Kamara to stop Whitlow on an 11-yard run. Cook’s hit on the Panther quarterback allowed Kamara to reach in and rip the ball out allowing Gabe Terry to pounce on the ball.
The Tigers were unable to take advantage of the turnover, but the defense stood tall again forcing a punt. On the play, Kamara cut inside and had a clear shot at the punter blocking his first kick as a Tiger and gave the offense great starting position at the EIU three.
This time TSU would convert on the Butler to Sanders-McCollum touchdown play. The Tigers attempted to go for two, but the Panther defense kept Erick Evans out of the end zone to leave the score at 19-14 with 3:20 on the clock in the third.
Missed opportunities for the Tigers allowed EIU to stay within striking distance. On their first drive of the fourth quarter EIU would make the Tigers pay as they traveled 63 yards on six plays. Church scored his second touchdown of the game as he broke free around the left side of the line and ran untouched for 25 yards. The Panthers added the two-point conversion to take a 22-19 lead with 10:55 remaining in the game.
The Tigers came right back and made its way down to the EIU 33. With a fourth-and-six head coach Rod Reed called on his sophomore kicker to attempt a 50-yard field goal. Clark made good on a career best and the third longest field goal in TSU history to tie the game at 22-22 with 6:41 left in regulation.
The score would remain tied as the teams went into overtime. EIU took the ball first and moved down to the nine setting up a 26-yard field goal for Nick Bruno. The Tigers took over at the 25 and was not able to gain any ground setting up a third and ten. The Panthers used the second of its two picks to end the game for the 25-22 win.
The Tigers will once again hit the road as they travel to Richmond, Ky. to face Eastern Kentucky. The game is set for Saturday, Oct. 24, at 3:00 p.m. EST, as they continue OVC play.
Kick-off: 6:08 p.m. ... Weather at time of kick-off: 59 degrees and clear ... TSU Captains: Aaron Woods, Dinsdale Jackson, Joshawn Bowens ... TSU won the coin toss and received the first-half kickoff ... Saturday marked TSU’s 85th Homecoming ... TSU falls to 65-15-5 record on homecoming ... It was the 19th meeting between TSU and EIU … EIU extends its lead in the all-time series to 12-7 ... Ronald Butler’s 30-yard rush in the second quarter matches a career-high, which was set last week at UT Martin ... Butler rushed for a career-high 104 yards, the first 100-plus yard rushing performance for a TSU player since the 2014 season opener when Tom Smith rushed for 151 yards versus Edward Waters ... Lane Clark’s 50 yard field goal in the fourth quarter was the longest of his career and third longest in TSU history, tying Jamin Godfrey from 2013… The school record was a 53-yard field goal by Seth Goodowens versus Jackson State in 1999 ... Clark made three field goals, which are the most in his career for a single game ... TSU won the coin toss before overtime and chose to go on defense to begin OT ... Saturday was TSU’s third overtime game in the Rod Reed era … The last OT game for TSU was a 31-28 loss at Jacksonville State on Oct. 20, 2012 ... The Tigers were playing their final game at Nissan Stadium this season … TSU will play two more home games on campus at Hale Stadium versus Austin Peay on Oct. 31 and Murray State on Nov. 7.
“We did a really good job running the ball. The guys up front did really well tonight. We just came up short. We need to make better mental decisions to put our team in a better position to succeed.”
- On the offense
“We game planned for a lot of quarterback running and it opened up pretty well in the first half. In the second half, it got a little quiet, but it was definitely there.”
- On the running game
TSU Head Coach Rod Reed
“We played without some key guys, but that’s the nature of the beast. The guys that filled in, they went out there and played well. I’m really proud of this football team for the way they went toe-to-toe with these guys. We had our chances. We dropped a couple balls and we threw a couple ill-advised passes, but I thought we gave ourselves a chance to win. All in all, we got beat by the better team tonight.”
- On his team’s performance
“Winning cures everything. If you’re able to get one on the books, your morale is up and it’s just a cure-all. We have a tough road ahead of us. We’ve got to go up to Richmond, Kentucky and play Eastern Kentucky next week. They’re ranked #14 in the country, and we need to go up there and be ready to play.”
TSU defensive back David Kamara
“It was a tough game. We fought hard on offense and defense. We had to make a play at the end of the game and we had to find a way to win the game.“
- Thoughts on the game
“I just told myself I need to dominate this game. I had to find a way to make plays. Defense, special teams, we need to find a way to make turnovers. Every game we need to get at least three to give our offense a good chance to win.”
- On his personal performance
TSU defensive tackle Rodney Edwards
“Before the game, the coaches told us the team depended on us as a d-line. We took that with pride and did what we had to do to try to win the game.”
- On the play of the defensive line